Monday, 30th October 2017

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Raids on lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover trigger outrage

'Grover and I are being targeted for the human rights work that we have done over the years,' Jaising said

  • Published 12.07.19, 7:00 AM
  • Updated 12.07.19, 7:00 AM
  • 3 mins read
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Indira Jaising outside her home in New Delhi on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh

The CBI knocked on the doors of Indira Jaising, a senior lawyer who has been a vocal critic of some of the policies of the Narendra Modi government, at 5am on Thursday as part of raids on the premises and offices associated with Lawyers Collective, an NGO run by the advocate and her husband Anand Grover.

The swoop, carried out on the basis of a complaint lodged by the Union home ministry about alleged violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), drew widespread condemnation from academics, civil rights activists, artists and lawyers.

“Mr Grover and I are being targeted for the human rights work that we have done over the years,” Jaising told reporters.

Sources said the search started at 5am at the couple’s residence at Nizamuddin in Delhi and the offices of Lawyers Collective in Delhi and Mumbai. Lawyers Collective is a group of lawyers who have tried to use the law to change the status of marginalised communities through human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation.

Last month, the CBI had registered an FIR against the NGO for allegedly “misusing” or “diverting” foreign contributions. The gist of the charges appears to be that the NGO paid Jaising Rs 96.60 lakh as remuneration between 2009 and 2014 from foreign contributions and that she had not taken clearance from the government despite being additional solicitor-general then.

Jaising, Grover and Lawyers Collective had earlier issued a media statement denying “any allegation of misutilisation of any funds”.

Although the CBI did not name Jaising as an accused, the home ministry’s complaint, which is now part of the FIR, mentions allegations against her.

The International Commission of Jurists, which advocates justice and human rights, condemned the raids and underscored several factors in a statement.

  • The two advocates — Jaising and Grover — have been frequently challenging the government’s failures to respect and promote the rights of all people in India, the commission said.
  • The FCRA is a much-criticised law, frequently used to target human rights defenders and critics of the Indian government, it added. The action relied on overly broad and vague legal provisions of the FCRA that violate India’s legal obligation to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
  • The CBI raids appear to be based on a 2016 home ministry of report, now under appeal in Bombay High Court, and without any material change in circumstances since its release, the commission said.
  • The attack is emblematic of a broader pattern of official threats to and harassment of Indian civil society, in general, and Lawyers Collective, in particular.
  • The law (FCRA) should be repealed, or substantially amended to include safeguards against arbitrary use of its provisions and to protect freedom of expression and association, said Sam Zarifi, the secretary-general of the commission.

In 2016, the Union ministry had cancelled the FCRA licence of the NGO for allegedly using foreign contributions for “political purposes” and other unstated reasons.

Grover, the president of the NGO, and Jaising, who was additional solicitor-general when the UPA was in power, have fought many cases in the public interest.

The Supreme Court had issued a notice to the NGO last month on alleged FCRA violations based on a petition filed by another organisation. Grover had then alleged “victimisation” as Jaising had taken up “the issue of allegations of sexual harassment against CJI Ranjan Gogoi by a former employee of the apex court”.

In its order cancelling Lawyers Collective’s FCRA licence in 2016, the home ministry had alleged discrepancies on foreign contributions in the returns the NGO had filed.

It was alleged that Jaising’s foreign travels as additional solicitor-general had been funded by Lawyers Collective using foreign contributions and without prior approval from the ministry.

The ministry underlined that the additional solicitor-general is paid by the government from the Consolidated Fund of India and carries out sensitive and high-level work.

The home ministry had alleged that Jaising had violated the FCRA by “not seeking clearances from the government for receiving foreign contributions in the form of remuneration from the organisation and accepting foreign hospitality”. The ministry complaint says Lawyers Collective received over Rs 32.39 crore in foreign aid between 2006-07 and 2014-15.

In a statement on Thursday, the CBI said the case had been registered on June 13 on a complaint from the home ministry against the NGO, its president and unknown office bearers/functionaries and unknown private individuals and public servants.

“It was alleged in the complaint that during the years 2006 to 2014, the accused persons entered into a conspiracy in Mumbai, Delhi and other places with an intent to cheat the Government of India in the matter of misusing/diverting foreign contributions received in the Mumbai-based NGO,” the statement said.

Civil society termed the raids “coercion and intimidation”, saying they were “nothing short of a brute show of intimidation as well as gross abuse of power”.

“This is especially so since both the advocates, well known for their pioneering work in the field of human rights, and their NGO, Lawyers Collective, have fully cooperated with the authorities ever since criminal charges were filed against them in alleged FCRA violation cases. The raids that have taken place today despite this show of cooperation are shocking,” said a statement issued through the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust.

The signatories included Prabhat Patnaik, Irfan Habib, Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Vivan Sundaram, M.K. Raina and Zoya Hasan.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the raid was a clear act of vendetta. “Registration of cases and raids by government agencies have now become the way of the government to harass and intimidate opponents,” he said.